Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Our waiter bounces around like the ball in a pinball machine. He speeds past our table, trying to translate the Italian-only menu into something that we can understand. Halfway through the appetizers, he bounces off to check something with the kitchen before ricocheting out of sight. Some minutes later, he careers back to our table, waving his hands animatedly and asking “tutto bene?” Just watching him is both entertaining and exhausting, but I like him immediately.
We are at La Genovese, a trattoria just a few paces outside our front door in Rapallo, Italy. Our airbnb host has recommended it to us, assuring us that unlike other places in this touristy town, this restaurant is both good and affordable, and as it turns out, she was right.
It’s past 9pm and we are hungry, but having experienced the often generous portions in Italy, the two of us decide to share a set menu. For our first course, we chose the gnocchi with pesto. After all, we are in Liguria, and its capital, Genoa, did bring us the famous pesto genovese. With a combination of hand gestures, English, and a valiant effort to make my limited French sound as Italian as possible, we try to make it clear that we only want one portion of everything so we are worried when two generous plates of the gnocchi arrive. We try to send one back, but the waitress insists that the kitchen has helpfully divided one portion among two plates. For a moment, we can do nothing but stare at each other in shock. If this is what one portion looks like, how can anyone finish a full set menu by him- or herself?
Insistent hunger pangs prompt us to get over our shock quickly and we tuck in with so much gusto that I forget to take a picture until I am almost done. The pasta, while on the heavy side, was absolutely delicious and I can’t wait for our second course, octopus stew.
The portion size of our stew is more in keeping with what we expected. The baby octopi are melt-in-your-mouth tender, although the sauce is a little too salty for my taste. The main course is accompanied by a side salad that is refreshingly welcome after a hot day spent by the seaside.
The set menu includes a bottle of water but no dessert. By this point, neither of us can fit in another spoonful, so we this doesn’t bother us in the slightest. The meal comes up to a mere 20 Euros, which in a town that calls ritzy Portofino and tourist-laden Cinque Terre its neighbours, is cheap eats indeed.
The meal is so good that we decide to go back for dinner the next day. This time, the heart-shaped pasta that we order comes in more manageable portions and is as delicious and perfectly al dente as we have come to expect in Italy. However, the fish stew that we order for our second course is bland and forgettable, and we regret not going with the fried calamari that our enthusiastic waiter insists is “very good, very good!” The stewed peppers (our waiter falsely raised our expectations by calling them pepperoni), however, are as good as he promised. Tonight, the menu costs us just 15 Euros and feeds two.
La Genovese is a rare find in a touristy town. Its menu is entirely in Italian and even its staff have a limited grasp of English. It is frequented by the locals, ranging from families to a group of teenagers out for pizza. But most of all, it has pretty good local food for an amazingly cheap price. If you, like us, are unsure of what to order, simply go with the suggestion of the enthusiastic waiter. When we did, we never regretted it.
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